Beg, borrow, steal but provide oxygen: Delhi HC tells Centre
The Delhi High Court last evening pulled up the Centre over the tragedy unfolding in hospitals, demanding why it's not waking up to the reality. A division bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli conducted an extraordinary hearing at 8 pm after the Max Healthcare Network said it was almost out of oxygen. The court asked if human lives don't matter at all.
The second wave of coronavirus is wreaking havoc on Indian hospitals and they are now out of beds, oxygen cylinders, and ventilators. On Tuesday, few top Delhi hospitals received oxygen at the eleventh hour. However, the same scenes were reported yesterday as facilities like St. Stephen's Hospital were pushed to the edge. Left with no alternative, the Max Group approached the HC.
Coming down heavily on the Centre, the bench remarked, "We are shocked and dismayed that the government does not seem to be seeing the reality. What is happening? Why is the government not waking up to the reality." The bench noted that the oxygen situation on the ground isn't being "wrongly projected." "We cannot shut our eyes to it," HC said.
HC asserted that people can't die just because the government can't provide more resources. "You beg, borrow or steal or do whatever you have to do but you have to do (provide oxygen). We cannot see people dying, because people are dying," the bench added. While the hearing continued, supplier Inox provided oxygen to the Max Hospitals in Shalimar Bagh and Patparganj.
An incensed bench also highlighted that "the heavens are not going to fall if the industries, including steel and petroleum, run on lower capacity till oxygen is imported." Citing Tata Group's example, HC asked, "If the Tatas can divert oxygen they are generating for their steel plants to medical use, why can't others? This is the height of greed."
"This is really ridiculous. You are concerned with the industries while people die...That means human lives don't matter for the government," the judges said while pointing out that Centre allowed oxygen's industrial use, despite the directions passed on Tuesday.
When the Centre expressed surprise at Max Group's petition, the bench replied, "Don't get surprised by this petition. You should know the situation...Yesterday we told you about (using) the petroleum and steel industries' oxygen. What have you done?" The Centre claimed that "files have started moving," but the HC wasn't impressed. "What is the outcome? We aren't bothered about these files," it said.
The bench re-assembled at 9:20 pm to hear the matter and quickly junked the Centre's request to adjourn the matter. "If the emergency has subsided, I can take instructions and address the court tomorrow," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pleaded, but the bench remained firm. It asked what the Centre is doing about oxygen supply across India and commented that it isn't exploring all options.
When the Delhi government's counsel, Rahul Mehra, suggested using paramilitary forces for the transportation of oxygen tankers, Mehta said, "The Centre can facilitate corridor with paramilitary forces for transport of oxygen." At the end of the hearing, the HC assured that Delhi will receive an unobstructed supply of oxygen. The matter will again be heard today at 3 pm.